How Avoidance Leads to Increased Suffering

By Jeanette Lorandini

Imagine that you are a student back in school. Perhaps you knew that you would have a big term paper due on a specific date at the beginning of the semester.

Naturally, you spent weeks preparing your research and writing your paper. You even had it completed a week before the due date!

Or did you?

Like many students, you probably waited until the very last minute to write the paper. It’s a classic scenario, avoiding a project until it’s down to the wire.

However, those hours that you spend completing the assignment feel stressful and typically lead to a lot of mental anguish on your part.

Aside from a school assignment, however, many of us avoid everyday situations regularly. We attempt to sidestep pain, anguish, and discomfort — but why? How can we stop this behavior, avoid the mounds of unnecessary pressure, and manage life head-on?

Understanding Avoidance

There’s a reason why we avoid things that we perceive to be difficult or hard. It’s easier than facing them upfront. If you avoid the problem, then it isn’t an issue — until it becomes an issue.

This approach doesn’t mean we are crazy, abnormal, or even cowardly. Not at all. It’s that we are not genuinely avoiding the actual problem. Instead, we are avoiding all of the emotions tied to that problem, such as:

  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Overwhelm
  • Pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Inadequacy
  • Rejection

These and similar emotions are challenging to experience. So, the answer often is not to face them whatsoever.

Honestly, we do this all the time with issues in our life. Whether it’s doing that massive pile of laundry or having a challenging conversation with our partner, the concept is still the same. We don’t want to deal with the negative emotions associated with the action, so we avoid it.

How Avoidance Leads to Increased Suffering

Of course, there is a problem with this scenario: the problem never goes away. But we continue to wish it were true! After all, how many times in our lives have we wished that a problem just disappeared?

In reality, life doesn’t work that way. You can’t stick your head in the sand. If you avoid the problem now, you will still have to deal with it in the future.

Only, by the time you address the issue, your stress levels have increased significantly. You likely associate more mental energy with the problem than it deserves. Also, particular constraints, such as time, tend to make smaller problems much more extensive if left unchallenged. This standoffishness all leads to more mental anguish and suffering.

But what can you do about this situation?

How to Avoid Avoidance

Avoiding avoidance might seem like a double whammy, but several things can prevent you from falling into this trap, including:

  • Acknowledging the reality of the situation at hand. This reality is what you have to work with, and you can’t avoid it.
  • Break down large problems into smaller ones.
  • Prioritize what needs accomplishing first.
  • Make a plan for how to accomplish these tasks.
  • Follow through and give yourself a deadline.

You will find that you can tackle the problem better when you set aside your emotions and look at it objectively.

Utilizing Opposite Action

Using “opposite action” means that you choose an action that is the exact opposite of what your emotions are telling you to do. Suppose your gut feeling is to avoid doing something, such as not folding the laundry straight out of the dryer. Naturally, the opposite action would be to bite the bullet and get the laundry folded promptly after the dryer buzzes.

This tactic is interesting because it requires your brain’s logical side to have control as opposed to letting your emotions dictate your actions. Also, the opposite action approach empowers you to make choices that align more with your values.

For example, you pride yourself on getting a job done right. Yet, how does avoidance align with those values? The short answer is that most likely, it doesn’t. So, you choose an action that is more in keeping with your values.

If you have been struggling with avoidance, be gentle with yourself. Everyone, at some point, encounters avoidance. However, if it’s always been an issue for you, ask for help.

Please reach out to me today to learn about the treatment options available. You are not alone.

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